We recently added an interesting item to our Objects Collection, an instrument called a facial goniometer. This came to the Archives from our colleagues at the Beneski Museum of Natural History. The object offers a bit of insight into the local popularity of anthropometery in the 19th century – that is, the practice of compiling a wide variety of measurements of the human body, most often in the support of various scientific or pseudoscientific theories of anthropology.
A goniometer is any device that measures angles. A facial goniometer is specifically concerned with calculating the angle of the face from the jaw to the forehead. This instrument was introduced in the mid-19th century by anthropometrists. This particular goniometer bears the maker’s mark “Collin, Paris.” Adolphe Collin was a well-known surgical instrument maker in Paris from the 1860s through the 1930s.
George Morton, in his Crania Americana (1839), provides a detailed description of how a facial goniometer is meant to be applied to measure the facial angle of the human skull. First, three basal pieces (A) are affixed snugly around the sides and front of the specimen, while a thin vertical piece in the middle (K and L) sort of straddles the nasal bone. Then the vertical limb D is allowed to fall back to touch limb K, and a degree measurement is made on the angular scale.